Thursday, 10 September 2009

Riot, grrrls.

A couple of months ago I blogged about what it means to be a female musician today. Recently I've been thinking about what it's like to be a female music fan/geek as well and I've decided it's just as weird and shit. This was summed up for me the other day when I was in Sister Ray, a record shop in Soho, and I was the only woman there. And this isn't a one-off. I've always found independent and second hand record shops to be full of boys. The same goes for gigs, at a fairly recent Sonic Youth gig I attended girls were outnumbered by boys by at least three to one.

Are girl music geeks invisible on the music scene? Are there thousands, even millions, of us listening to bootlegs and b-sides in our bedrooms feeling intimidated by the macho atmosphere of many gigs and record shops? Absolutely. I know I was worried recently when I thought I was going to a Sonic Youth gig (yes, another one) alone. Last time was pretty rough, everybody was taller than me, male and going nuts. There's no way I'm going to hide away at the back when I could be thrashing about at the front but it's always good to know that you have a friend there to haul you up from the floor if needs be. There's also the problem for girls at gigs that some horrible boys will use their proximity to you, and the fact that you are stuck, to get 'handsy'. This can range from people rubbing up against you and groping because they think you won't notice in the throng (I did notice, and I know you noticed my elbow in your ribs and the bruise it must have left), to more serious sexual assaults and even rape and gang rape (during Limp Bizkit and KoRn at Woodstock). Most women who attend gigs will have dealt with some sort of behaviour on this spectrum.

I've written before about women feeling like they can't take up space and I think this is apparent at gigs which can become dangerous. It's safer to move and thrash along with everybody else than to stand still in the midst of everything and get trampled. Perhaps we're too scared to be rude to the asshole rubbing up us because we're taught to be polite and that if he gets angry we won't be able to defend ourselves. I remember being so pleased that I wasn't wearing a skirt as I crowd-surfed my way out of Pixies at Reading Festival, you hear of so many girls being violated in that situation.

And if it wasn't crap enough to fear being assaulted at a gig or embarrassed at a record shop, we also have to look out for girl-hate based on our love of music. If you wear a band t-shirt you face girls talking behind your back, 'She's just wearing it coz she thinks it's cool. Eurgh, I hate girls like that, it's so desperate.' People who wear band t-shirts of bands they don't like are lame, but why assume that somebody isn't a genuine fan just because they're female? I'm sure her boyfriend wouldn't be accused of being a shallow hipster if he was wearing it. I almost feel that some girls view themselves as the only real female music fan in the world, the rest of us are faking to get a boyfriend. I'm not saying you should be friends with every girl you see wearing a t-shirt of your favourite band, but I wish people would acknowledge how sexist and macho the alternative music scene can be and not buy into that bullshit. I'm reminded of a couple of my favourite points from the riot grrrl manifesto:

BECAUSE we are interested in creating non-heirarchical ways of being AND making music, friends, and scenes based on communication + understanding, instead of competition + good/bad categorizations.

BECAUSE we are unwilling to let our real and valid anger be diffused and/or turned against us via the internalization of sexism as witnessed in girl/girl jealousism and self defeating girltype behaviors.

I want girls to be happy when they see another girl in a t-shirt, it means more female faces at gigs. We should be getting stuck in at the front with our girl friends, teaching those boys who take advantage of the fact they're lucky enough to be near us in all our awesomeness exactly what happens if you touch us without our permission. One last point from the riot grrrl manifesto:

BECAUSE we know that life is much more than physical survival and are patently aware that the punk rock "you can do anything" idea is crucial to the coming angry grrrl rock revolution which seeks to save the psychic and cultural lives of girls and women everywhere, according to their own terms, not ours.


  1. i couldn't not respond to this. i must had have had a totally different experience to you/have a different attitude, because i cannot relate to this at all. i frequently go to gigs alone and absolutely nothing negative ever crosses my mind about that fact. i went to last december's atp and it was basically full of white men with dreadlocks but not once did i feel sorry for going mental with them. same for jesus lizard and harvey milk at may's atp fans. 'typical' male bands.. but are they? maybe it was because my last boyfriend and person i have most in common with musically was a feminist, but i never felt a lesser music geek next to him. and i've never, ever had someone bitch about me for wearing a particular band t shirt. i don't think anyone would assume i'm doing it to be cool and that i'm not a fan. it happened to my ex, though! he was wearing a kraftwork t shirt at a uni event and some 20 year old idiot was all 'lol, do you even know who they are' and he was like lol i am 25 i am a huge fan. i wear my palace brothers and fucked up t shirts because i love the bands and so far i've not hit upon any criticism.

    ... not really sure what my point is, except perhaps that in my experience there is no gender divide? yeah, i know it's 'rarer' for girls to like some of the bands i love, but whatever, i'd rather love a band that has tons of male fans than love something all other girls are into just because it's 'what girls should like'.

  2. ..and i didn't just 'not feel sorry for rocking out' i didn't even think about it?! literally did not cross my mind once. one of my best friends, ellen, who runs holy roar, is the same as me in that she's never HAD to worry about gender problems.

  3. I don't think I ever said in this post that I felt sorry for rocking out, that I experienced any guilt about being a music fan, ever felt like any less of a music fan or geek because I am a woman or liked 'what girls should like'?

    I'm glad that you've never experienced the bad side of gig-going or girl on girl hate or jealousy. I can only relate my experience and the experiences of people I know. In my experience there is certainly a gender divide. I've been in the minority at gigs, been groped and heard (although not directed at me) other girls hate on girls in band t-shirts.

  4. Hi, cool post. I can totally relate to what you're describing here. I've always felt a bit left out of the music scene. I love music but i rarely go to gigs as no-one i know has the same music tastes as me and i feel a bit unsure of going into central london at night.

    Many independent shops generally go to the mainstream indie, which is dominated by boy rock. I really can't relate to this type of music as it just seems to repeat itself over again and i find myself going to the internet in search of new music.

    A lot of guy music geeks that i know generally relate to the repetitive boy-rock in the stores and it does kinda make you feel like your views are completely worthless. I once had a borderline argument, i rarely argue full on, with a guy who was trying to convince me that kate nash was shit. i argued that she introduced the mainstream to things like riot grrrl, diy and girl folk music but he continued to batter me with his views.

    I can't say that i've ever had any girl hate to be honest. If anyone is going to make a snap judgement on you based on a t-shirt you should probably cut them out of your life.

    btw the girl germs night looks really cool, will try to pop down but if you also need any help running the nights i'd be happy to get involved. After years in the feminist closet, I'm finally trying to meet more feminist sistas, steph x.x.x.

  5. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    yr so getting it. i grew up in a rtaher small town and there were like 3 record shops in that whole town. i used to go there very often, but stopped after a while, because i was weirded out by the old men who would run them. i'm not sure whether they were just interested in my taste of music... the looks i got from one of them spoke a different language. and remembering all these visits i don't remember seeing a single girl in one of those shops. i thanked got that the internet was there, because it meant no more staring, no more weird looks, and no more dumb questions while listening to music. it also meant not getting out there anymore though, rather sitting in my room geeking out.

    i went to a vivian girls gig a while ago and there were a lot of huge, sweaty men moshing around in the front/middle. basically the girls stood on the back or (like me) on the sides where they would still get some elbows in their backs occasionally. i'm really tiny, so i can decide between standing at the safe back and not getting violated, but not seeing anything, or i can stand at the sides dealing with moshing idiots. being right in the middle is not an option.

    luckily the viv girls rule <3 they realized what was going on and said: "all girls, com to the front! boys, step back! please let all the girls come forward!"

  6. that's AWESOME!! i love vivian girls, they are the winners. and i love them even more for doing that. most gig-going grrrls have been there and it's brilliant that they remember that when they're on stage.

    it reminds me of similar things happening at 90s riot grrrl gigs. it makes me SO happy that this kind of solidarity isn't dead!!

    btw, i LOVE your blog. it makes me smile every day.

  7. I'm 35 and have been hanging out in indie rock circles for what feels like ages now (um...IS ages) and this has definitely got a lot better over the past 20 years. I used to be the only girl at gigs or at record shops and now I see a few here and there. It was okay though, I just made friends with the less macho guys. Oh, and here's a quick tip for holding your own in music geek conversations:

    Boy: Group XXX rocks
    You: I prefer group XXX (insert name of group who did the same type of music but at least a decade before)
    Boy: Yeah, I've got their XXX album
    You: But XXX is better (insert name of debut album)
    Boy: yeah xxx (track) is the best
    You: but have you heard the version on the XXX Japanese bootleg (which you can completely make up at this stage, no-ones going to know and I've caught a lot of guys doing this over the years)

    Works a treat!